Lightning Poland is a light, card driven wargame that advertises a 30 minute play-time – more on that later. Game components include two decks of cards (German & Polish) and a one page, double sided rule sheet. Each deck is divided into a number of card types:
Objective Cards: These are what you battle over, each card has a point value (0-4) and unique text that may modify the battle. To win the game a player needs 10 points of objectives.
Force Cards: basically armies – Infantry, Mechanized, or Armor. Force cards have combat values ranging from 0-3, plus unique text that modify battles or situations.
Modifier Cards: A variety of classes of cards that modify battles or situations. Cards generally have a combat modifier and/or unique text that modify combat or situations. In battle only one of any class of modifier card can be in play at a time.
Game Mechanics Overview
The game is played in turns with one players taking turns being the active player. The active player has the choice of one (only one) of three actions during their turn. They can ‘reinforce’ by bringing force cards out of their hand and into play, they can ‘regroup’ by drawing their hand up to nine cards or they can battle over an objective. Reinforce and Regroup really don't need further explanation, battles however are the heart of the game and are a bit involved.
A battle is combat over an objective card. The active player announces the objective to be fought over. Some objectives like the city of Warsaw, are unavailable until a path of other objectives has been cleared. Once an objective card is selected the card text (usually a combat modifier) immediately comes into play for that battle. The active player then selects one or more of their force cards (armies) to attack that objective. The defender then may select to defend the objective and (if defending) allocates force cards to defense. The players total up the value of their force cards, unique force card texts (ie. a card might say “+2 if defending”), any modifiers from the objective and, rarely, permanent combat modifier cards that may be in play as a result of a previous battle, to get a base combat value for each side.
Starting with the active player each player gets to play combat modifier cards, one at a time, out of their hand. Modifier cards usually add to one sides force points and often have text that will modify the battle, other cards, or the game. Modifier cards come in three subtypes – Military, Circumstance, or Intelligence. There can only be one of each sub-type card in play at any one time – so if say, Germany plays a ‘Military Card’ with +3 force the Polish player may, if he has one, play a Military card of his own on top of the German Card. The German card is discarded as is the ‘+3' effect it had. The Germans may counter later in the battle by playing another Military card on top of the Polish card and canceling the Poles effect.. and so on.
A player may ‘pass’ on playing cards during a battle, but if both players pass in a row the battle concludes. Force points of all cards in play plus modifier texts are added up and the player with the most points wins the battle. Any cards in play from the battle that have an effect on the game are now resolved. For example, a common text is, ‘After battle discard one active Force Card from play’ so that player (win or lose) would have to discard one of his units as a result of the battle.
If the winning player was the active player, he gets the objective and adds the objectives value to his objective point total. All Force cards that were involved in the battle for both sides are returned to their owner's hand (represents disorganized/ spent units).
At the conclusion of the active player's turn they may discard any number of cards from their hand and get to draw 1 new card (unless already at 9 cards).
First let me get right to the point for those of you who want to move on.
Q. Is Lightning Poland worth the $15 - $20 price considering that there isn’t a whole lot in the box.
A. Yes, absolutely. The reason? Out of the box playability! You will be playing this game at a competent level within five minutes of ripping the cellophane off the box – seriously, I’m not exaggerating. The game has one and a half pages of very clear and very well written rules (I would rate the rules as the best written ‘short’ rulebook I’ve ever encountered). Game play is intuitive and options are limited to one of three choices each turn. Card text is unambiguous and they do not ‘break’ rules from the rule book.
Play balance: You might think from the title that this game is going to be a romp for the Germans and not much fun for the Poles~ completely untrue! In my limited plays, it’s the Poles who have an advantage. The reason is the game’s clever use of Victory Points/ Cards. The German player is playing for conquest – blasting through the outer defenses and rolling into a showdown battle in Warsaw. The Poles on the other hand are playing for time – there objective cards are delaying actions. If the Poles can delay the Germans on all three fronts something not historical might have happened – the very real possibility of a German Military revolt, forceful Western intervention, Polish-Russian alliance, who the hell knows, but it would have been very bad news for Der Furher.
In terms of victory, the Poles only need to win three attacks, the Germans on the other hand are looking at a minimum of four attacks, but more likely five to six (there are some off the track objectives that are almost required to take down some very pesky Polish units). This means that the Poles can afford a few all out attacks that will likely result in the Poles winning an objective, but the Germans grabbing one of theirs next turn. In contrast the Germans need to be mindful of holding back troops and cards from battle to counter Polish adventurism.
Time: The game is quick…. Not 30 minutes quick, at least not the first few games. I’d put it at about one hour +/-
Involvement: There’s not a lot down time, turns are quick and in battle both players are involved in card play.
As with any card driven game, knowing the cards and knowing which cards to play or not play in certain situation is critical. That means to fully appreciate the game and move from competence in the game mechanics to competence in the subtle strategy you are going to need to play several games.
Being limited to just one action per turn can be frustrating. It’s very hard to surprise an opponent.
It’s more of a card game with a military theme than a card driven wargame.
Lightning Poland does exactly what it intends – it’s an incredibly accessible, easy to learn, engaging and quick game. On the flip side, the lack of complexity and limited options makes it a game that will move into your ‘introductory / filler pile’ pretty quickly.
Yea, get it. It’s a solid game, makes a good filler or introductory game, easy to transport – and, most importantly, if you buy it today you and a friend can be playing the game in minutes.
If you like Lightning Poland, give Lightning North Africa a go. A couple notches up on the complexity scale, but well worth it for a wonderful card driven area control wargame.
Images from BGG / BGG users
Lightning: D-Day, Lightning: Midway, & Lightning: War on Terror are also very worth it...